Legend in the Making

Hailing from Tochigi, Japan, and weighing in at a polished tailpipe less than a small SUV, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd's '09 GT-R sports coupe at first seems unlikely to flip the ultra-high-performance arena on its lid. But as the first of the auto maker's halo cars to be sold worldwide, Nissan has high expectations for the fifth-generation R35 model. After a day in the mountains and at Nevada's Reno-Fernley

Mike Sutton

May 1, 2008

4 Min Read
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Hailing from Tochigi, Japan, and weighing in at a polished tailpipe less than a small SUV, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd's '09 GT-R sports coupe at first seems unlikely to flip the ultra-high-performance arena on its lid.

But as the first of the auto maker's halo cars to be sold worldwide, Nissan has high expectations for the fifth-generation R35 model. After a day in the mountains and at Nevada's Reno-Fernley Raceway, it becomes clear the new GT-R truly is something special. It accelerates and changes direction with physics-defying tenacity, and its high-speed grip and stability are nothing short of incredible.

Putting the aptly nicknamed Godzilla into context is difficult because no current or recent vehicle has made such over-the-top athleticism so attainable.

Its $70,000 sticker, 3.5-second 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time and 193-mph (311-km/h) top speed put it in lock step with the equally affordable but less-practical Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Yet, by purposely eclipsing the benchmark of a Porsche 911 Turbo, Nissan ensures the GT-R can show its signature 4-ring taillights to most exotics more than double its price.

The likely reason for this lies with the handpicked team of developers that treated Japan's ultimate supercar program like that of an obsessive race team.

The key element of the GT-R — the one that allows it to stick better the harder it's pushed through a corner — is its adaptive ATTESA ET-S all-wheel-drive system.

A heavy rear bias provides good chassis response. However, up to 50% of the power can be shifted to the nose when the mix of yaw sensors and accelerometers call for more traction. Track-tuned electronic-stability controls provide a welcome safety net when searching out the limits, but most tight situations are best handled by mashing the gas and letting the AWD work its magic.

Unlike past models, the GT-R's steel, carbon-fiber and aluminum Premium Midship Platform is unique to the R35 and allows its front-mounted, aluminum 3.8L V-6 and rear 6-speed, dual-clutch transaxle to be positioned near the center of the car for better weight distribution.

The twin-turbocharged VR38DETT quickly spools up 480 hp and 430 lb.-ft. (583 Nm) of torque, with the GR6 automated gearbox spitting out crisp, uninterrupted shifts either by itself or with the column-mounted paddles.

A few clunky gear changes at low speeds easily are dismissed, but the Shop-Vac-on-steroids exhaust note is a real letdown for a car of this caliber.

Adjustable Bilstein DampTronic dampers manage the front double-wishbone and rear multi-link suspensions with acceptable ride quality and solid body control, even in race mode, with the 4-wheel, 15-in. (38-cm) Brembo discs straining the retinas under hard braking.

High-performance summer, all-season and winter run-flat tires are available for the standard 20-in. wheels.

Nissan expects most U.S. GT-Rs to be Premium models shod with sticky Bridgestone RE070Rs, which produce loads of sure-footed grip at the expense of some interior road noise at highway speeds.

Tire roar and a funky exhaust are hardly deal breakers for a car Nissan tuned to lap Germany's Nurburgring racetrack faster than almost any other production vehicle. However, a true supercar is about the allure of its street presence as much as its prowess on the track.

The R35's body is a functional element. Sculpted in the wind tunnel, it manages heat dissipation, has a slippery drag coefficient and produces significant amounts of aerodynamic downforce at speed. Nissan calls the design “distinctly Japanese,” with “aero-blade” fenders and a “sword-edge” kink in the C-pillar.

But for a road-going katana with jet thrusters, the GT-R hardly leaps out of a crowded parking lot.

With only about 1,500 units coming to the U.S. each year (starting in July), first adopters smitten with the car already are lining up to pay premiums at Nissan's 676 “GT-R Certified” dealers.

The exterior's digital theme carries into the 4-seat cabin, which is functional in its layout and spacious for two. But the atmosphere feels sparse, dark and cold, with sport seats lacking long-distance comfort. The sporty gauge cluster with central tachometer is useful when eyeing the next apex, and the center stack is well designed and uncluttered.

The GT-R is further separated from the exotic-car norm by its Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle status, ability to dodge a gas-guzzler tax and usable trunk.

The R35 GT-R's image may resonate stronger on racetracks around the world than on Main Street America, but new-age enthusiasts are sure to embrace the car as the performance legend it undoubtedly will become.

[+] PROS/CONS [-]

Amazing grip, speed

Lousy exhaust note

Engineering marvel

Drab interior

Bargain price

A $70,000 Nissan?

'09 Nissan GT-R

Vehicle type: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger coupe

Engine: 3.8L twin-turbocharged DOHC V-6

Power (SAE net): 480 hp @ 6,800 rpm

Torque: 430 lb.-ft (583 Nm) @ 3,200-5,200 rpm

Compression ratio: 9.0:1

Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual

Wheelbase: 109.4 ins. (278 cm)

Overall length: 183.1 ins. (465 cm)

Overall height: 54.0 (137 cm)

Curb Weight: 3,836 lbs./ 1,740 kg

Base price: $69,850 (excl. dest.)

Fuel economy: 16/21 mpg (15/11 L/100 km)

Competition: BMW M6, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Porsche 911 Turbo

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2008
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